The City Council of Phoenix, Arizona has repealed an ordinance that had been used this summer to prohibit Christians in the city from distributing bottled water on the streets.
As previously reported, in July of this year, Patrick Moore and Dana Crow-Smith told Christian News Network that they had been approached by an official with Phoenix Neighborhood Services shortly after setting up a table on the public sidewalk, which contained tracts, books and free bottled water. Moore and Crow-Smith were among over twenty Christians who had gathered to preach, engage in one-on-one witnessing and distribute tracts during the city’s monthly “First Friday” festival.
“He had a badge on, so I knew something was up,” Moore stated, who teaches a Bible study for senior citizens in Phoenix.
“I believe that somebody complained on us,” Smith added.
Moore and Smith explained that Neighborhood Preservation Inspector Dwayne Grierson then told the group that they were breaking the law by distributing water, and stated that they would be considered a “vendor” and needed a permit.
Moore said that he asked Grierson for the governing ordinance, and the officer returned with information outlining vending requirements on private property, which require a permit that costs $350.
When Moore contested the applicability of the law, he said that Grierson replied, “The ordinance is what it is, and I’m here to enforce it.”
The inspector allowed the Christians to continue distributing the water for the night, but told them that next time they must obtain a vendor’s permit. Grierson told Christian News Network that he was simply following the law.
The ordinance cited, defines sidewalk vending as “peddling, vending, selling, displaying, or offering for sale any item of tangible personal property or other thing of value upon a sidewalk of the City of Phoenix.”
The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia offered to provide legal assistance to the Christians, and contacted the city about the matter. The organization stated that at first, city officials were divided over the issue.
“Initially, City Manager David Cavazos doubled down on the policy, claiming that prohibiting Crow-Smith from giving out water was an issue of ‘fairness’ for other persons selling or giving out wares and goods at the First Friday festival,” the Rutherford Institute explained. “However, following public backlash, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked policy makers to review the ordinance.”
Yesterday, City Council agreed that the ordinance, while well-intentioned, wrongfully restricted acts of kindness under much red tape, such as giving away bottled water. An amendment will now be included in the law that notates that the free distribution of drinking water will be exempt from the $350 permit requirement.
“We live in a desert, and it’s the right thing to do,” Councilman Bill Gates opined. “Sometimes, things happen where we have unintended consequences, and I think this is a perfect example of it.”
“This victory in Phoenix shows that one person can stand up and change government for the better,” commented John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, following the decision. “This is proof that the democratic process not only can work but is working, provided that Americans care enough to take a stand and make their discontent heard. The best way to ensure that your government officials hear you is by never giving up, never backing down and never remaining silent. As Samuel Adams pointed out, ‘It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.’”
Crow-Smith says that she and the nearly two dozen Christians that regularly witness in downtown Phoenix plan to hand out water again next year during the hot summer months.